It's a good setup. Everyone wins. Usually.
Not tonight, when all Chuck wants is to sack out, and he's stuck in the mess, playing increasingly elaborate games of solitaire and nursing a fruit cup.
He checks his watch again, figures he can take the scenic route back to his quarters, tips back the last bits of lychee or whatever, gathers up the cards, and shoves his chair away from the table. There's no one else around, so he takes a minute for a bone-popper of a stretch once he's up before tucking the chair back into place and starting toward home.
The scenic route involves a lot of stairs. There's still no hurry, but some flights he takes two steps at a time. For entertainment. Some he goes up at an angle. Some he walks up backwards. He only does a few steps hopping before deciding that's too much work.
Even though he's meandered as much as humanly possible, the possibly-sculpture thing at the end of his hallway is still turned so the big curve is facing the wall. It's more subtle than hanging a tie over the doorknob, but only just. It isn't like these doors have knobs, anyway.
Chuck takes a minute to be annoyed, but no one is holding a gun to his head on this deal. So he ducks into the alcove out of view of the doors and sits down to wait it out.
He's actually dozed off by the time he hears the voices, quiet enough that he can't quite identify the second person. Not that he wants to. People are borrowing his quarters for the view and the space and the seclusion, but also for the privacy. And it's been going on for long enough that he knows it's better all around if he has no idea who's involved. There's laughter, though, and whoever it is, they're a little drunk. It's slowing down the turnover, and Chuck takes a deep breath to push down another twinge of irritation while he waits for the scuffle and scrape as the sculpture's turned back around, followed by the quiet hiss of the transporter doors.
He shoves himself up the wall fast enough to get a head rush, but he shakes it off and takes long, fast strides down the hall, smacking the control panel and swinging through his doors almost before they're open.
There's a quarter bottle of something that smells off-puttingly like sherry on the floor next to the sofa-like thing, but he shrugs out of his jacket and carries it out to his balcony anyway.
The really remarkable thing is that it's all been settling into a routine. A really weird routine, sure, but less weird than most of the other parts of his day, so Chuck mostly ignores the occasional jolts to his equanimity. The rare inconvenience.
Doctor Simpson had fixed his camera when it wasn't reading the memory card, and maybe she would have done that for him anyway, but she also leaves novels behind in his room, switching them out every couple of weeks. Stackhouse has taken over half of his inventory rotations, not that he minds them, but it's still a valid trade. His schedule rarely includes shifts of the more boring aspects of maintenance and upkeep anymore, and that had to be the XO, even if it's never been spelled out.
Chuck checks his watch again, knowing he's got fewer hours than he'd like left for sleep, toasts the view with the last of the not-sherry, and heads in to change the sheets.
His job is actually kind of boring, sometimes. So he tells himself it's nice to have something to do, working out the details of who gets access to his rooms and when. The transactions are on the hazy side of the grey market; negotiating over the com channels or on the servers seems foolish. The trades aren't explicit. It's based around understanding that they're all here for the long haul, and doing good turns for each other is only politic.
So he clears out for the evening three nights or so in every four, and he gets - well. Mostly he gets goodwill. Books he could probably have borrowed anyway, some twitches to his schedule he could have just asked for. Maybe he's being a chump, but it's all in place now. Easier to just let it wind down, stop on its own. Which it will, eventually. As more personnel arrive and the exploratory teams open new parts of the city, better places will turn up.
It was an accident that he had wound up with an apartment that could be used as a lovers' rendezvous. Original contingent's quarters, a corridor half-lined with dead men's rooms. A little-used transporter unconnected to any of the important locations. A room that had turned into a suite overnight, when the new ZPM was installed. And a sweeping balcony, curving out from the rooms and around the tower.
It was beautiful, and it really wouldn't have been right to keep it all to himself.
He's half asleep the first time he actually talks to her. Nearly body-checks her as he's auto-piloting his way into the transporter outside of the mess, and she's trying to get out. He's managed to grab a roll and a coffee, but he's going to be late if he sits, so he's got a mouthful of bread and it's only luck that he wasn't already trying to wash it down with the coffee. It would have been all over her. As it is, she manages to twist most of the way out of his path and seems amused when she helps him up, coffee still miraculously upright and only a little sloshed over the edge of the cup.
She raised an eyebrow. "Nice priorities."
"Yeah, well," Chuck's talking around part of a roll, still, so he swallows as smoothly as he can manage. "Rationing. Habit. You know how it is. Or - uh, well. Maybe not?" Great. Really great. But she doesn't seem to mind that he's flustered. Perhaps she figures he's off-balance from, well, losing his balance?
But she just smiles. "Sergeant Campbell, right? I've seen you in the gate room?"
He shoves the half eaten roll in his jacket pocket, sticks out his hand with his own smile, and says, "Call me Chuck? I mean, yes, gate room. Campbell. Sergeant. Yes." Apparently he needs to trade evenings in his quarters for a jar of instant coffee he can drink in the shower. He has to be able to string together sentences if there's any chance he's going to run into her in the morning again.
But now she's laughing, big blue eyes sparkling and the movement making the light dance in her hair as she places her hand in his. "I'm Maura. Lindsay. Doctor, if you need a title. Anthropology, if you need a division."
Chuck's still reeling a little at his luck, or maybe it's the remnants of adrenaline after the near collision. But he realizes he's kept her hand just a little too long when her expression goes quizzical. So he lets go, fast. And not smooth. Damn it.
But she's tilted her head a little, still looking at him. And Chuck thinks, in for a penny, and takes a deep breath. Before he can say anything else, though, she's speaking.
"Were you in a hurry to get somewhere?"
Now he really is late.
He sees her again, of course. He's been seeing her all along, since she arrived.
He just never knew her first name before.
He's on duty the next time she comes back through the gate. It shouldn't take him by surprise, but Doctor Park had his rooms the night before and Chuck's almost sleepwalking through the beginning of his shift. He knows he looked over the roster of personnel currently off-world, went over the gate traffic schedules, but it's all pretty hazy. He's been keeping his head down, verifying the IDC, dropping the shield, counting heads, and he's toggling status back to at home in the personnel files when her name finally catches his eye. And he finally looks up from his screen, down at the main floor. She's tapping out something on her datapad and examining what looks like a bunch of rakes one of the marines is holding. She looks exhausted, Chuck can tell the tip of her nose is sunburned from all the way across the room, and when she pushes back the hat she's wearing, he can see where the grime stops in a line right above her eyebrows, leaving her forehead pale.
She's out of the city much of the time, it turns out. The expedition is using her as a sort of trade commodity - agricultural consultancy to cement diplomatic ties. Which makes it sound simpler than it is, since really it's an excuse to gather intel (if the military contingent is doing the explaining) or to carry out ethnographic research (if you're listening to the science division). But the farming thing is valid enough to counter spying accusations. Or so they are all hoping.
He's given up on catching her eye; she's almost out of the room. Then she looks up and right at him and grins and winks and she's gone.
The Daedalus has been back in orbit for five days when Chuck signs on to his workstation to find a message: orders to report for a meeting with Colonel Caldwell first thing the next morning. Which is odd. It doesn't quite seem to follow the chain of command as he understands it, but the actual message is official enough, so he spends less time wondering about the who and more time wondering about the why.
It turns out that the Colonel maintains an office in the city. Which is a great relief to Chuck, as he has no idea how to go about arranging to use the Asgard beam to get to the ship.
He takes care to be prompt and formal, but Colonel Caldwell waves him into the room and gestures him toward a seat.
"So you're the Sergeant Campbell I've been hearing so much about, I take it?" The Colonel seems bland and friendly, but focused, like he's waiting for Chuck to make a misstep.
"Interesting. I've heard some very interesting things about you."
"Sir?" Chuck's pretty sure he knows where this is going. He does his job. He does his job well, steadily, carefully; he doesn't get rattled. But that's not what makes him remarkable, not in a place like this.
Caldwell doesn't speak again, just watches him.
Chuck doesn't have anything to prove, and if he did, he wouldn't be trying to prove it in a staring contest with a superior officer. "Sir? May I ask what this is about?"
"Opportunities, Sergeant. I hear you are a man who can recognize opportunities. Have I been misled?"
"Sir? " Caldwell rises and moves to the window. "It's a wonderful place to serve, Atlantis. You're lucky to be here."
"How would you like to expand your horizons further?" Caldwell pauses, turns back toward the room, and gives Chuck a considering look. "I've been thinking about developing a program to rotate one or two of my best officers into the city while the Daedalus is in this galaxy, for a few days at a time. And to bring one or two of the expedition staff onto the ship. A sort of job shadowing, increasing flexibility and understanding. A means to improve our working relationships." He clears his throat, turns back toward the window. "I'm considering you as a candidate."
"Thank you sir," That's not it, though. Chuck is still waiting for the real subject of this meeting to come out. "I appreciate the opportunity."
"I thought you would." Caldwell's all smiles now; he sits back down, folds his hands on the desk, and leans forward. "So. Now that's settled - I hear you lucked out in the housing draw?"
And there it is.
It takes some scrambling to accommodate Colonel Caldwell, but at least Chuck's getting something concrete in exchange.
He's still excited about it when lunchtime rolls around, so when he sees her in line, picking out a sandwich and perusing the jello selection, he walks up behind her and says, low next to her ear, "I hear blue is best."
She turns her head just enough that he can catch that she's rolling her eyes at him. "Yeah, sure. Like no one's tried to pull that one on me before. More than my life's worth, getting caught taking the last of it." She reaches around the first row of cups, snagging the base of one stuck in the back corner. "Anyway, I prefer green."
"Safe choice. Very impressive." Chuck grins at her as she turns around with her tray. "May I join you?"
"Why Sergeant, I'd be honored." And she smiles back, and this day just can't get any better.
It turns out that she's there with a group of botanists, ethnographers, and at least one microbiologist. So a working lunch, for her. Not really an opportunity for small talk, but he's happy to sit and smile and listen and watch her.
He's so busy trying to be subtle about staring at her that it takes him by surprise when she gets up to leave.
"Oh - hey." And that's not the way to cover up that he wasn't paying attention.
He's got her attention, though. She's half-smiling, raising an eyebrow. "Hmmm?"
"There's, we've got - I mean, some of the guys have rigged up a projection screen in one of the big rooms near the east pier. There's a movie tonight -"
"Oh." She doesn't look amused anymore.
"I just thought, maybe, if you like - well. I'd like to take you. Take you there, to the movies, I mean." Chuck's holding his breath now, so he won't be tempted to keep talking. This seems awkward, more than it should, and he can't figure out what the look she's giving him means.
She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I'd like to. I really would. But I can't." Her mouth twists a little, and Chuck's heart sinks.
"Alright. Well." He looks down at the table. "Lunch was nice. Sorry to make it awkward."
"Oh, no. No, not at all." She puts out a hand in a sort of stopping motion. "Wait. I really would like to. It's just that I have a commitment tonight. A date. But it's with a guy I've already broken up with, it's, you know," she's sketching out some sort of strange box-shape in the air between them with her hands. "Closure."
"Oh." Chuck's still a little confused by the hand waving, but he's getting the message that this is not a no.
"Listen - probably I won't be very long. I could meet you there?"
Definitely not a no. That's a yes.
It's too dark to meet inside, so he waits in the corridor outside the makeshift theater. He doesn't give up until he hears the end credits start.
Not a yes after all.
He never expected to have a chance to work on an intergalactic spaceship, much less two of them simultaneously. It was easy to forget that's what the city is, when he never left it. The change in scenery almost makes up for the arrangement - Caldwell gets access to the rooms any night the Daedalus is in orbit. It's fine, really, but it's meant a few mornings Chuck's woken up slumped over a table in the mess, early morning glare and the clatter of the kitchen detail's arrival in lieu of an alarm.
He picks up his coffee and whatever the transportable breakfast option is before going back to his rooms on those days. But now even when he manages to sleep in his bed, he makes a point of getting in and out of the mess early when he knows she's not off-world. It's not that his feelings are hurt. It's just that he doesn't want to put her in an awkward position; forcing her into feeling she needs to apologize for standing him up.
The whole arrangement has become less complicated since Caldwell entered into it. Keeping the schedule clear for him had meant disrupting everyone else's standing reservations. For the most part, everyone understood, once they got over their initial irritation at the inconvenient necessity for new rendezvous locales.
Chuck's even managing to spend the occasional evening enjoying his own quarters. Watching the sunset from the balcony, looking back over the city or out over the sea. Eating dinner at his kitchen table. Leaving his game of solitaire half-finished and spread out over the surface if he feels like it. Getting into bed without thinking about laundry first.
It's quiet. Peaceful.
It's the third time through for the Daedalus since Chuck's conversation with Colonel Caldwell. He's just back from a three-day stint on the ship, and he's got the whole day off. He hasn't got much in the way of plans yet, but there's a jumper flight to the mainland in a few hours, scheduled to return to the city just after sundown. A long walk in the woods sounds like just the thing.
He's got a few hours to kill first, so he decides to catch up on a few letters home. He can't say much, but he's learned that all his family really needs to hear is that he's happy and healthy and misses them, and he can definitely say that. And he's been perfecting saying it with as many words as possible, in the hope that they won't notice the lack of any other information.
He settles onto the sofa-like thing with a pad of actual paper and his last remaining ballpoint, and swings his legs up so that he can stretch out when he gets jabbed by something stuck between the sort-of-couch cushions. It turns out to be an old-fashioned enameled ladies' compact. It's in good shape, well cared for, though the mirror inside is badly cracked. It has to belong to whomever Caldwell is meeting, so Chuck zips it into his jacket pocket for safekeeping.
The next day Colonel Caldwell is in a meeting with Doctor Weir when Chuck gets to work. They're in her office arguing about something for hours before the Colonel finally leaves. When he does, Chuck is so taken by surprise that he doesn't manage to catch up to Caldwell until he's nearly in the transporter.
Thankfully, he's been spotted.
"Sergeant? Did you need to speak to me?" Caldwell seems distracted; he must have lost the argument.
"Sir. Yes. Can we - " Chuck gestures toward the door to the balcony. He knows this doesn't look quite right, this urgent need to talk confidentially to the one guy who outranks his boss, but he can't think of a way around it, and he doesn't think Caldwell would thank him for handing over his lady friend's belongings in the public hallway.
Thankfully, the Colonel seems to realize that as well, and says, "Ah, yes. You needed to update me on your project with Lieutenant Novak on the drive. Please." And he steps out onto the balcony, smooth as can be.
Chuck follows him out and lets the door close behind them. "Sorry sir. It's just, I found this in my room," He screens his movements with his body and hands the compact over. "I thought it must belong to your friend?"
Caldwell has a hell of a poker face. He takes the compact, thanks Chuck, and remarks fondly on how much his friend would have missed it had it not been found, all while looking for the world as though he were giving sage advice on human-Asgard relations in the workplace. It's impressive.
Weeks later, and Chuck's working on a report when there's an unscheduled gate activation with Doctor Lindsay's IDC, followed by a call for help over the emergency com channel. Her voice is clear and the message is succinct, but you can hear the tight panic underneath.
When the rescue team returns through the gate, she's the only one they bring back alive.
Doctor McKay leads her up the steps, surprisingly solicitous, a hand cupped beneath her elbow. She's debriefed in a cursory way in Doctor Weir's office, but when a second team of marines brings the body bags home, the command staff leaves for the infirmary.
Chuck hears Doctor Weir stop on the way out, voice pitched low and soothing, telling her to sit as long as she needs, warning that she'll be needed at a full debrief in the morning.
He listens to the silence coming from the office as long as he can before he turns around.
Her eyes are huge and she's so pale she almost looks gray. There's a smudge of ash along her jawline. Her back is straight and she's very still, but her hands are fisted, white-knuckled on her knees.
"Hey." He's whispering, but it carries. "Hey."
She comes out of her thousand-yard stare with a start.
"Hey. Are you - ?" Crap. Obviously she isn't all right. Different tack. "Can I do anything?"
She looks puzzled, now. Like even if she knew the answer to his question, she wouldn't know the words to express it.
"Would you sit out here with me? Would that help?"
She still looks lost, but she gets up, so he stands as well, grabs the unused chair from the next workstation, and is ready to hand her into it by the time she gets there.
He doesn't try to talk to her, beyond saying that he'll listen if she has anything to say. She just shakes her head a little at that, so he goes back to his report.
She's losing tension by tiny degrees, so he pretends not to notice when her shoe nudges up against his. And when he sees the wet splash marks appearing on her jacket sleeve, he's as careful and slow as he can manage pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket, tucking it gently into the palm of her hand without looking up from the screen. It surprises him when she catches his fingers and holds them for a moment, but he does his best not to show it.
It's almost two hours later when she finally speaks.
"You -" Her voice is creaky. She stops and clears her throat. "You've been here since the beginning."
It isn't a question, but Chuck nods.
"A lot of the original personnel died. Were killed."
That isn't a question either. But he answers it anyway. "Yes."
"People you knew. Coworkers. Friends."
She's quiet again for a while after that.
When she speaks again, he has to strain to make out the words. "I don't know why it happened."
She takes a deep breath and turns toward him, so he meets her eyes. She's rumpled and smeared, bloodshot and blotchy. "We'd been working in that village for weeks. They were friendly. I don't know why." She sounds like it's a puzzle she needs to solve, like if she thinks about it hard enough she can reverse it.
"It's - well, listen," He pauses for a minute, struggling to find something reassuring to say. "If there had been any warning, if there was a reason why that you could have known? Major Lorne would have noticed it. He's, I mean, he was the best. There wasn't anything else you could have done." It isn't comforting, but it's true.
She looks like she believes him, at least. That's something. And he has something else that might help.
"You have to be at the debriefing in the morning, right?" She nods at that, looking resigned. "You need to get some sleep."
And now she's looking at him like he's crazy.
He keeps going. "No, I know - hear me out. When we knew the Wraith were on the way, we all worked around the clock for a while, getting what defenses we had ready. We went through everything caffeinated, sugared, anything that was even a temporary stimulant. Anyone with any engineering or mechanical ability got drugs as well. Once it was over, some of the scientists collapsed, I heard a couple had psychotic episodes. So we all had enforced downtime to get over it, but almost no one could stop panicking on their own."
She doesn't look like she knows where he's going with this, but she's listening.
"They gave us sedatives. But since everyone needed it, they didn't try to dispense it centrally. They gave out supplies to whoever was the most coherent, to dole out as needed. They were worried about accidental overdoses, that the guys who were the most out of it would forget how many they had already taken."
She's nodding, like this makes sense.
It doesn't, in retrospect, but it had at the time. The infirmary staff had been as strung out as the rest of them. "On your way back to your quarters, do you pass the botany labs?"
That throws her. But she nods.
"Lots of the botanists wound up being distribution points. If you know one who was original personnel, ask them if they have any left. I don't think you want to go to the infirmary tonight, right?"
She shudders. They both know it will be a while before the medical staff is doing anything other than post-mortems.
"Yes. I think yes." She's pulling herself together. Her smile is all show, but it's a start. "Thank you."
Chuck doesn't know what to say to that, so he shrugs and smiles back a little.
"I better go. I'll return the handkerchief clean, okay?" She sticks it in her jacket pocket, and then pulls out something else. "I look like a wreck. The last thing I want is to get stopped to explain why, but I guess I'll just keep my head down." She grimaces a little at her reflection in the cracked mirror, and catches Chuck staring at the enameled compact in her hand. "It was my grandmother's. I know it's a strange thing to carry around, but it's useful." She looks a little embarrassed.
Chuck feels sick. "Yeah. I believe you." His smile feels obviously fake, tight and strange. "Go get some sleep now."
He catches himself avoiding her again after that, but when she catches up to him in one of the hallways to give back his handkerchief, he realizes he's only spiting himself. So he works on not resenting the fact that her dead people turned out not to be dead after all, and tells himself he doesn't have any call to resent anything else either, and stops.
It's harder when the Daedalus comes back.
It's the end of a double shift that seems like it's going to stretch on forever, and Chuck's finally managed to escape the gate room with a handful of crystals gone bad from one of the terminals. There's nothing scheduled, so no one argues when he decides to get new ones from the labs and just take care of it, rather than adding it to the routine maintenance roster.
He figures if he times things right, he'll be back just as his relief shows up. He's ambling down the hall, flipping a crystal over and under and through his fingers as he goes, when he hears tense voices from a door he's passing. He can barely make out one of them, but the answers back are louder and angry, a familiar voice.
The door is opening before Chuck has time to consider how much he doesn't want to be caught eavesdropping, and it's too late. She's half through the door already and brought up short by the sight of him, obviously surprised to find anyone in the hall.
Her face is flushed and she's breathing hard. She looks about ready to punch someone, so Chuck tries to look innocent and friendly and does his best to not look past her into the darkened storeroom.
"Hi." Awkwardness? What awkwardness? "How's it going?"
Her expression doesn't change for a moment, then she looks outraged for the blink of an eye, then she's grinning.
"Well. It's going." She finishes her step into the hall, and the door closes behind her. "Chuck. Hi."
"Inventory?" The gentlemanly thing is to give her an out, and that one's credible. Sort of.
"Yes. Inventory." She looks down at the floor. The grin is gone already, but there's something wry still ghosting about her features. "Definitely - assessing things. Taking stock."
This isn't a direction he can really keep up with. Not knowing what he knows, when she doesn't know that he knows.
"Done?" Bright and innocuous, and he doesn't let her answer. "Walk with me? I'm headed to the labs."
She nods and there they are, strolling. Together. He's the host - he asked her along, after all - so he tells her all the gate room gossip he can come up with. There isn't much, but it's different than the science team gossip, so at least she hasn't heard it before.
Of course, she isn't hearing it now, either. She's preoccupied, nodding when he stops talking, making encouraging noises at more or less the appropriate times. It's frustrating, the way she's dwelling on whatever it is. Chuck doesn't have a stake, exactly, in getting her to pay attention to him, but they're sort of friends. And friends don't let friends stew after they get caught having fights with their secret relationship partners, he's pretty sure about that.
So he stops and frowns at her. It takes her half a step to stop and turn, looking inquisitive.
"What is it?"
Chuck keeps up the intensity, and lets just a hair of puzzlement creep into his expression.
"Chuck? What? You're freaking me out, now."
Ok, now she's focused on him.
He holds his hands out, palms up, and she looks down at them, then back up, raising an eyebrow.
"There's something in your hair." He smiles at her, waits half a beat, and pulls one of the crystals from behind her ear. He presents it with a flourish, and drops it into the hand she opens automatically.
"Um." It's about the reaction he expected.
"What?" She's trying to sound annoyed, but one corner of her mouth is crooking up. "What now?"
"You've got an infestation." He spreads out his hands again, giving her a moment to really look. "Stay very still."
He starts plucking crystals from her pockets, her shoe, her sleeve, and dropping them into her hands. They click together in her cupped palms, and keep clicking when she starts shaking with laughter.
There you go. That's what sort of friends do.
He's killing time in the mess, but at least tonight he has company. The city's hosting refugees again, and that seems to translate into a party atmosphere every time. There's music, and bottles of the Athosian near-sherry are making the rounds, and if you know who to talk to and already have a cup of fruit juice, there's grain alcohol as well. It kicks like a mule, and he stopped drinking it when he realized he was just getting morose.
He's gained a new pal, too. Even if she won't tell him her name.
He also has a feeling that she's leaning on him more because she has to than because she wants to.
It's all right, though, because she definitely wants to as well.
A walk is a good idea for both of them, and if they wind up near his place, what's the harm?
The statue thing is turned back to the unoccupied position, so Chuck figures what the hell - he deserves something - smiles down at the girl he's half supporting and asks her if she'd like to see the view from his room.
When she flashes a knowing leer, he figures maybe it really is that easy.
Ten minutes later, he remembers that nothing is that easy. He feels more sober than he would like.
"Doctor Lindsay? Doctor Lindsay - come on, wake up." She's lying, fully dressed, across his neatly made bed, out cold. Drunk? He gives her an experimental shake, then a gentle slap on the cheek. Nothing. He turns her to her side on the off-chance that she might start throwing up, curses his stupid, stupid luck, tells the girl perched on the sofa-thing she needs to go home, and ducks into the bathroom to get a wet cloth.
Where he realizes it's all more serious than he thought.
He'd been the sleeping pill guy for this corridor. Of course. And there's the bottle that had held the leftovers, standing empty on the side of the sink. She isn't drunk at all.
He needs a doctor. Fast.
He knows where the closest one is.
He snags his com and keys Lieutenant Cadman's quarters.
Three minutes later he's giving her directions, which transporter to use to get there fastest - not the one nearest to her rooms, the one down two halls and to the left - while trying to count Doctor Lindsay's heartbeats off against the secondhand on his wristwatch.
Two more minutes and she's there, Doctor Beckett in tow.
Another minute, and he's sitting on the sofa-thing himself, since there's not enough room for all four of them in his bathroom, where they're pumping out her stomach.
The next ten minutes or so drag, so when Cadman finally comes out, Chuck jumps between her and the door to ask what's happening.
"Carson has her stabilized enough to move to the infirmary." The look in her eyes is murderous, but Chuck ignores it.
"Infirmary? Wait, if she's going to be all right, is that absolutely necessary?"
"What?" Cadman's response is at drill-sergeant volume. It rocks Chuck back on his heels for a moment, but this is important.
"Listen. Just listen, okay?" He tries to sound as reasonable as possible. "Attempted suicide. She'll be thrown out of the program. Please don't make that happen."
"Shouldn't it? Wouldn't she be better off away from," she makes a circling motion with one hand, grouping together Chuck and the room around them, "all of this?" "All of what?" Chuck knows what she means, though. He looks culpable. His rooms, his bed, his pills. It isn't like he can explain that whatever's going on here has nothing to do with him. "Never mind, it's not important. Let her get better and then talk to her about it, okay? Please don't do this when she can't speak for herself. What if it was an accident?"
"What if it was an accident? Are you kidding?" Her voice is rising again. "Do you have any idea how many pills we just got out of her?"
"Please." He looks as sincere as he can. He knows that should be damned sincere. Olympic level sincerity. "Please."
"Jesus, Campbell. You better not be trying to cover your own ass, here." She gives him another death glare and goes back into the bathroom.
What follows sounds like an argument, but the walls are solid enough that he can't make out the words, just angry voices. Then Cadman's back, and she shoves him out of her path on the way to the door.
"Don't worry, asshole. I'm just going for more supplies." She pauses. "You may want to get in there, help Carson out, try being part of the solution."
With that, she's gone.
He goes in to help.
It's a long seven hours of handing over equipment, ignoring snide comments, fetching supplies, holding bags of IV fluids, running out for coffee, and taking generalized abuse from the Beckett/Cadman tag team, but when it's finally over it doesn't seem quite real. Cadman strips Doctor Lindsay, helps her wash, dresses her in boxers and a t-shirt, and tucks her back into Chuck's bed.
Beckett reads him the riot act about not returning the pills to the infirmary in the first place, never mind that no one else had either, then launches into thirty minutes on behaving like a human being, having respect for your partner, and the respect due women in general. It's a pretty good speech, and he agrees with it all already, but he keeps his mouth shut about that and just listens.
Then there are basic instructions on how the Ancient device clamped to Doctor Lindsay's wrist is working - pulling toxins out of her blood so she can avoid kidney and liver damage - and the news that she's likely to sleep most of the next forty-eight hours and shouldn't be left alone. Beckett says he'll sign off on paperwork that she's down with some form of virus, but that Chuck's on his own to make excuses to get out of his shifts.
He winds up owing a lot of favors to a lot of people. It's fine. They're all here for the long haul.
The sun is starting to rise by the time he's got things settled. He opaques the windows, but leaves the balcony open for the breeze. The sofa thing is too far away, so he carries in one of the uncomfortable chairs, shoves it into the corner of the room, and wedges himself into it. He'll be sore later, but he'll wake up when she does.
It's mid-afternoon when she starts to get restless. He manages to get her to start drinking a glass of water before she's even awake enough to figure out where she is.
Once she's awake enough, though, she starts batting at the glass and squinting at the blue metal cuff on her arm.
"Mmmph. Wha?" She shakes her head a little, but looks like she immediately regrets it. "What?"
Chuck sits down carefully on the edge of the bed. "Come on, drink some more. Dehydration is part of why your head hurts."
She looks at the glass and Chuck a little suspiciously, but takes another sip. "Why are you here?"
"Ah. Yes. I didn't think you knew. Sorry." He spreads his arms and ducks his head in a mock bow. "Welcome to my home."
"Oh my god." She closes her eyes for a moment, and then looks up at him again. "Oh my god." Her eyes close again and she sets the heels of her hands over them. "Sorry?"
"Don't worry about it. Really."
"Oh god. You found me?" Chuck nods, but her hands are still covering her eyes.
"Yes. I did."
"Were other people here? I sort of remember something about other people."
"Yes. Doctor Beckett and Lieutenant Cadman got the pills out of you."
"That's why my throat hurts so much."
"That would be my guess." Chuck takes a deep breath and figures he has to say it some time. "Sore throat's better than death, right?"
"Right now the jury's still out. Ask me again if the headache ever goes away." She's quiet for a moment before pulling her hands away from her eyes. "I don't mean that. Sorry. Thank you, yes, it's better than death. Thank you."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
She sighs. "Oh, I really don't. I really, really don't. But I seem to be stealing your bed, so you deserve an answer, right?" She groans. "So embarrassing. Lover's quarrel, I over-reacted. Kind of a lot. That's it in a nutshell." Another sigh. "I don't want to think about it right now, if that's okay. I kind of want to sleep some more, though."
"Okay. The doctor said you were going to sleep a lot. Finish the water first, though."
She rolls her eyes, then hisses. "Ow. Ow, ow, ow. Bad move." She smiles a little, wan and pinched. "Okay, mom. Hand over the glass."
He doesn't hand it over; she's still too shaky. He holds it for her until it's gone, though, and fluffs the pillow before settling her back down.
"Hey," He whispers in case she's already asleep, but she makes a little hum of acknowledgement, so he continues. "Did you want me to, well. Did you want me to talk to Colonel Caldwell?"
She's quiet for so long that he decides she actually is asleep, and he's halfway around the corner with the empty glass when he hears the answer.
"No." Cold and clear, brooking no argument.
Chuck spends a couple of hours catching up on his reports while she sleeps. She's starting to stir again when he hears a quiet knocking at the door.
It's Cadman, glowering. "Took you long enough to answer."
"You realize I could barely hear you knocking, right?" Apparently that isn't a valid answer, as the glower turns into a hard glare.
"I can't believe you." She's like an angry cat. Or a wolverine maybe. Something vicious with very sharp teeth. "I didn't want to wake her up. You, on the other hand, should be alert."
That makes sense, so he doesn't try to argue about it any more. She's got a big box in her arms that she uses to shove him out of the doorway, and then sets on the counter. "That's soup, bread, juice, stuff like that. It's for her, though there should be some left over for you. The hot stuff is in thermoses, it should hold you through tomorrow." She's unloading things, pouring out broth into a big earthenware mug.
"Thank you. That's really -"
"Did you miss the part where I said I didn't do it for you? Jesus, Campbell, can I maybe make a suggestion that you shut up for a while?"
Chuck starts to answer, but catches himself and just nods, stepping back out of her way.
"There. Maybe you're teachable, after all." She screws the lid back onto the thermos and picks up the mug, turning away from him and walking into the bedroom.
Chuck goes back to his reports. He isn't going to even look at the food while Cadman is still around.
He can hear Cadman talking, quiet and soothing in the next room.
"Hey sweetheart. Feeling any better?" The answer is too low to hear, but it sounds positive, because now Cadman's talking about the broth, encouraging her to drink it.
The talk goes on for a while; some gossip, a couple of wild stories Cadman says come straight out of mission reports that sound completely made up, good wishes from a few of Doctor Lindsay's colleagues. He listens inattentively until he notices the rise of a question.
"Are you okay here? I mean, I know we left you here this morning, but I couldn't actually ask you then, you weren't really coherent. I'm pretty sure I could sneak you back to your quarters, though, if you want. I'll make Carson carry you." There's a pause. "If we can't do it through the halls, I've got blackmail material on at least one guy with the authority to sign out a jumper, we could go balcony-to-balcony." Another pause. "I hear he's not so great at precision flying, though, so only if you're desperate, maybe."
That gets a laugh, though the rest of the answer is still too quiet to hear. It must be that she's all right with staying, since Cadman's next words are, "You're sure? You're not uncomfortable?"
There's more small talk, and it's nearly an hour later that Cadman comes back out.
"She's asleep again." She gives him a long look. He can feel the dare in it, so he keeps his mouth shut. She nods, looking happy with his silence. "Watch your step here, Campbell. I hear anything that makes me suspect she might be unhappy, and I will kick your ass."
He nods. Fair enough.
"Expect surprise inspections. And listen for the door next time."
He actually slumps when she leaves, it's such a relief she's gone.
The next day she's awake more than an hour at a time, so Chuck gets the cards out. They start with a game of pairs, the cards in even rows across the blanket. She sits tailor-fashion at the head of the bed; Chuck lies across the foot, propping himself up on one elbow.
She wins easily, despite the way that her head is clearly still aching.
They move on to war, where they're a little better matched. She wins again, but at least it takes a little longer.
Cadman shows up again and helps her in and out of a bath. Chuck takes advantage of the time by dragging the sofa thing across the apartment and out onto the balcony, and then works a shoelace out of one of his new hiking shoes until Cadman leaves.
He offers her the shoelace to tie her hair back with if she wants, and he winds up braiding it for her, telling her about his older sisters and younger brother. She tells him the story of how she broke her arm when she was eight - it involves a tree, a dare, and an escaped parakeet - while he pours out bowls of vegetable soup, thick with some sort of grain that looks like barley, except for the way that it's blue.
She's still unsteady on her feet, so he helps her out to the balcony and settles the pillows around her. She's wrapped in all three of his blankets; it's a calm, sunny day, but the breeze picks up from time to time.
Once the soup's gone, Chuck gets the deck back out, and shuffles while they negotiate what to play next. Chuck nixes cribbage since he can never keep the scoring straight without a board, and she shoots down gin rummy for vague reasons she declines to explain beyond saying, "Bad train trip. Really bad train trip."
They reminisce a little over college games of euchre and hearts, but neither is up for inventing new rules for two-person play on the fly. Too much work for too little potential payoff.
Chuck decides piquet is just the thing, but she's never heard of it. He's ten minutes into his explanation, and almost done sorting the low cards out of the deck, when she hits him with one of the pillows.
"Oh come on," She's grinning. "Crossing the Rubicon? You're making it up."
"I'm not! Really. That's what it's called." She looks ready to hit him again. They're soft pillows, though, and the activity is probably good for her, so he can take it.
"Right. Going to teach me fizzbin next?" She's laughing, so when she does hit him with the pillow, he goes with it and falls over the back of the sofa thing. Which makes her laugh more.
"It's a real game," He half-yells it from his position lying on the floor, swings his feet up and hooks his heels over the top of the backrest, then carries on explaining repique and pique in the longest, most confusing manner he can manage.
When he finally picks himself up, she's fallen asleep, still smiling. He tucks the blankets around her, sits down on the balcony decking, and shuffles the low cards back into the pack before dealing himself a round of solitaire.
Three hours later she's awake again, and determined to stay that way. They play snap and crazy eights and talk about movies. She teaches him to fold origami frogs and he tells her about his favorite hiking trails.
There's knocking from the front room. Doctor Beckett, this time.
He looks a little surprised at how promptly Chuck answers the door.
"Doctor Lindsay's out on the balcony."
Beckett looks at him quizzically, but Chuck isn't going to say anything else and have it get back to Lieutenant Cadman. He's fully aware that she can make his life hell.
Chuck sits on his desk, since the chair is still in the bedroom, and leans back until he can see them. Beckett is fussing with the Ancient bracelet thing, taking it off, and she's smiling at him and toying with one of the frogs in her free hand. Things look okay, so Chuck sits back up, pulls his laptop into reach, and starts checking for new messages on the server.
He can hear voices in the next room now, and when he leans back he doesn't see anyone on the balcony. Too cold, now that it's getting to early evening.
There's laughter, then Doctor Beckett comes back into the room, smiling.
"She's doing well. Very well. I have to say I wasn't happy about leaving her here, but you've been taking good care of her." Beckett pauses. Unlike his girlfriend, he clearly expects a response.
"Thank you, sir." He smiles. He hasn't been worried, really, not since the first time she woke up, but it's good to hear she's going to be fine. Beckett's frowning now, though. "Sir?"
"You aren't him, are you? The man who provoked this."
Chuck doesn't know what to say to that.
The next morning she leaves. She gets up and showers, puts her uniform back on, and thanks him. Chuck feels like he's losing something, and he doesn't really know how to accept her thanks as a result. It's awkward.
Once she's gone, though, he needs to get ready for work. It's nice to have something else to think about.
Another week, and the Daedalus is back from resettling the refugees.
Chuck suspects he's out of the motel business, but he's not sure what that means for his shifts on the ship.
He's not certain how to introduce the subject, but he stops by Caldwell's office in the hope that he'll have a sudden fit of thinking on his feet. Stranger things have happened.
Once he's there, though, inspiration fails to materialize.
"When I said I had time to meet for a few minutes, I didn't realize you meant we were going to have some sort of silent communion. If you have something to say, spit it out."
Chuck opens his mouth and closes it again. Okay, this is ridiculous. "Sir. It's about my assignments on the Daedalus."
Caldwell nods, so he continues. "I was curious if they were going to continue."
"Why wouldn't they?" Caldwell seems surprised, but Chuck isn't sure if that's a good sign or a bad one. "You've been doing good work. Is there a problem I'm unaware of?"
"Well. Sir. It's just -" Out with it. "Now that you won't need my quarters anymore, sir."
"Why wouldn't - Hang on a minute there, Campbell." The colonel sits back in his chair, frowning. "First of all, one thing has nothing to do with the other. I'm disappointed that you think that's how things work with me. But I suppose I can see how you might have got that idea, so I'm going to let it go."
"Yes sir. I apologize, sir."
"Secondly, I still need access to your quarters. Our arrangement stands. Is that going to be a problem?"
"No sir, not at all." It comes out automatically.
"Good. Now, sergeant, if that's all?"
"Then you're dismissed."
"Thank you, sir." Chuck stands up and is halfway to the door when he realizes he isn't done. He turns around. "Sir?"
"Yes sir. It is a problem."
"My quarters, sir. It is a problem. I'm sorry."
Caldwell looks perplexed for a moment, then shrugs. "Your prerogative. No apologies necessary." He looks pointedly down at his computer screen. "Now, if that's really all this time?
He spends his gate room shift thinking about her.
She's still with Caldwell. It doesn't make any sense. Perhaps she just hasn't had the time to break it off? She's been off-world since just before he got back, after all, and her team is due back later in the afternoon. Maybe then? Or maybe she's never going to leave him. Whatever weird, secret reasons they have for hiding their relationship, it can't be good for her. He wants to tell her so, but - none of his business. At least he's overheard Lieutenant Cadman harassing her about talking with Doctor Heightmeyer.
When the team comes through, Chuck's still on duty. She looks tired and happy, and she gives him a little wave. He manages to smile back at her.
That night he realizes he can't do it anymore.
A trek down to stores yields a few of the crates they use to tote supplies, and he carries them back to his rooms and starts packing. He doesn't have much, though. Even after two years.
He's nearly done when there's a tapping at the door.
It's not quite right to say that she's the last person he expects to find on the other side, but he's still pretty surprised.
"Hey." She grins. She's had a shower, her hair is still damp, and he can smell the grassy soap the Athosians make.
"Hi. Um. Come in?"
She does, but she stops short when she sees the crates. "You're leaving?"
"Well. Yes. I realized today, this place just isn't for me anymore."
"You're leaving?" She looks really upset. "When? When do you go?"
"What?" He's missing something here. "I haven't actually claimed new rooms, yet. But soon. In the morning?" Now she looks confused, but happier. "Wait. I'm not leaving the expedition. Is that what you thought?"
"Oh." She sighs and laughs a little. "Yes. That's what I thought. Sorry about the panic. That was embarrassing."
Huh. Panic. "Don't worry about it. It's actually sort of - flattering?"
"Wow, Chuck. Nice job making me feel less embarrassed."
He laughs at that. "Sorry. I'm just moving somewhere with neighbors."
She smiles back at him. "So."
"So." Yeah, this is top-flight conversation he's producing, here. "You don't have a date?" Way to take a turn for the awkward, though.
"No." She draws the word out. "I don't have a date." She raises an eyebrow. "I don't have any dates, currently."
"Think you can find your cards in all these boxes?"
Chuck's glad he left the sofa-thing on the balcony. The sunset's going to be spectacular.
She moves the cards around a little in her hand and frowns at them. "You know, you really should call me Maura."
"That was my Nan's name," It pops out. Abruptly. Chuck isn't quite sure where he's going with that, but he knows it isn't a suave, romantic place.
Everything goes very still for a long moment, and he's steeling himself to look up from his cards when she makes a choking noise. Followed by a loud snort. He looks at her, surprised, and she's red-faced from swallowing laughter. And that's not such a bad reaction, so Chuck starts to grin a little, too, sheepish.
"So maybe you shouldn't call me Maura?" She's laughing now, letting it out, and Chuck raises an eyebrow.
"Well. I don't know," he shrugs a little. "I liked her a lot."
"How much is a lot?" Her eyes are dancing, and Chuck sets his cards on the railing, carefully, deliberately. He takes a deep breath.
"Less than this." And he leans in, and so does she.
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